Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Every weekday morning, in time for your morning coffee, Carbon Brief sends out a free email known as the “Daily Briefing” to thousands of subscribers around the world. The email is a digest of the past 24 hours of media coverage related to climate change and energy, as well as our pick of the key studies published in peer-reviewed journals.
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- EU avoids imposing sanctions on Russian oil, despite war crimes in Ukraine
- UK: Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng orders scientific review of fracking impact
- UK: Rishi Sunak blocks green homes plan that would have lowered energy bills
- UN: 18 nations have gone green on climate, raked in green
- Offshore wind power: Industry defends itself against 'entrance fees' for expansion areas at sea in Germany
- Britons buy more electric cars in March than in whole of 2019
- China: Buffett-backed BYD stops making oil-fuelled cars in complete shift to new-energy vehicles
- Actually, humanity can still avoid climate catastrophe
- The EU can simultaneously end dependence on Russia and meet climate goals
- Let’s reduce the energy we use and change its source
- Multilevel predictors of climate change beliefs in Africa
- Climate change, fire return intervals and the growing risk of permanent forest loss in boreal Eurasia
Under a new sanctions package put to member states by the European Commission, the EU does not intend to ban Russian oil imports following evidence of war crimes being committed by Russian forces in Ukraine, Politico reports. While there have been reports that such a ban was being floated, “amid resistance from countries led by Germany” which are heavily reliant on fossil fuels from Russia, the bloc is stopping short of an embargo on Russian oil, it continues. Instead, the article notes that the EU will focus on the “far easier task of cutting out less valuable coal” from its Russian imports. According to BBC News, the fifth wave of EU sanctions against Russia would include a ban on coal imports worth €4bn a year, a full ban on four Russian banks, including Russia’s second biggest bank VTB, a ban on most Russian ships entering EU ports and on Russian and Belarusian road-transport operators. The Guardian quotes European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen who said in a speech that “we are working on additional sanctions, including on oil imports”. Reuters notes that Germany’s foreign minister said the coal ban was the first step toward a total embargo on all Russian fossil-fuel imports and, for its part, Ukraine says banning Russian gas is essential to ensure peace talks and an end to the war.
Meanwhile, a separate Reuters story notes that Germany will today announce a package of measures to “speed up the expansion of renewable energy as the need to reduce the country’s heavy reliance on Russian fossil fuels adds urgency to its green transition plans”. It states that the nation’s Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) will be changed to target 80% renewables in the power mix by 2030, up from 65%. Another Reuters piece says that EU members states without gas storage are seeking “solidarity” from others, which in turn are concerned about the excessive costs this will place on them as their companies “would be forced to buy large volumes of gas at near-record prices”.
Across Europe, the Financial Times reports on new estimates by trade group the Energy & Utilities Alliance that show people turning down the heating by 1-2C in residential and commercial buildings would cut dependence on Russian gas by almost 10%.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has requested a new report on the impact of fracking in the UK, just “days ahead” of the government publishing its much-anticipated energy supply plan, BBC News reports. It says that the minister has given the British Geological Survey (BGS) three months to “assess any changes to the science around the controversial practice”, noting that fracking has been on pause across the country since a 2019 moratorium on operations in England. The Financial Times notes that the ban was imposed after fracking company Cuadrilla triggered a series of earthquakes at an exploration well at a site in Lancashire. However, it adds that the technique is now back on the table as prime minister Boris Johnson comes under pressure from some of his own Conservative MPs to reconsider it as part of a plan to ensure energy security following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. According to the Times, “many Tory MPs, particularly on the right of the party” support fracking, while the prime minister and Kwarteng are cautious. The Independent quotes the business secretary, who even as he made the new announcement said that “it remains the case that fracking in England would take years of exploration and development before commercial quantities of gas could be produced for the market, and would certainly have no effect on prices in the near term”. According to the Guardian, some Conservative MPs suspected that No 10 had put pressure on Kwarteng to make the announcement “only in order to keep the option of a return to fracking open without ever properly examining it”, as a way to appease some of their colleagues in the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, a small grouping of largely climate-sceptic backbenchers. The i newspaper has an explainer on fracking and the history of attempts to extract shale gas in the UK.
Against this backdrop, the Sun has published a “poll” showing that “nearly half” of voters want to see the fracking ban lifted, with 44% “in favour of shale gas extraction”. There is no indication in the article about where these numbers are sourced from, although it does quote Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay, chair of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group. (Official government figures, published just one week ago, show that only 17% of people in the UK support fracking, while 45% oppose it.)
Meanwhile, an analysis piece in the Guardian finds that a charity linked to UK anti-onshore wind campaigns, the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), is once again active amid pressure on the government to support the technology. It notes that the group, which has “strong links” to climate-sceptic lobbyists known as the Global Warming Policy Foundation, has provided anti-onshore wind research to the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail in recent weeks. A separate news story in the Guardian reports that Colin Davie, an REF trustee, has been put in charge of Lincolnshire county council’s “green masterplan”. The Daily Telegraph reports on a call by Octopus chief executive Greg Jackson to end the “blanket ban” on onshore wind farms, which he said could help lower energy bills for communities.
The Daily Telegraph reports on more clashes within the UK government over the upcoming energy security strategy, with chancellor Rishi Sunak rejecting a push for more spending on energy efficiency measures for homes. According to the newspaper, Number 10 and the business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s team were pushing for an expansion of the Energy Company Obligation (Eco) scheme to be included in the strategy, involving an additional £200m a year added to the £1bn scheme so it “could be expanded beyond people receiving benefits”. The article states that Sunak had rejected the proposal on the basis that the Treasury “stands firm on the spending agreements set out last autumn for the next three years”.
Meanwhile, sections of the energy security strategy continue to be leaked to the UK press, with the Times reporting that the plans – set for release on Thursday – include a pledge to double the government’s target for low-carbon hydrogen from 5 gigawatts (GW) capacity to 10GW by 2030. The newspaper says prime minister Boris Johnson will place a “big bet” on hydrogen, hoping that it can be used to heat a third of UK homes as an alternative to gas by 2050. (See Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A on hydrogen.) A piece in the Guardian is titled: “What to expect in the UK’s energy strategy to be published this week.” Separately, an “exclusive” piece in the Independent cites figures from the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) which show that investment in renewable energy can create three times as many jobs as investing in fossil fuels.
Finally, the Times reports that as energy prices for households soar, Shell received a tax refund of $132m for its UK North Sea business last year.
There is continuing coverage of the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which looks into the progress that has been made so far tackling climate change and what is needed to curb emissions further. Associated Press focuses on a statement in the report that at least 18 countries have sustained emissions reductions “for at least a decade” as their economies continued to grow, something that “proponents of clean energy and thinks tanks have long said” it is possible to do. Several pieces in Reuters pull out more noteworthy statements from the report including the suggestion that the “world is awash with money, yet spending nowhere near enough to prevent extreme climate change”, as the newswire puts it. Another Reuters piece focusing on the report says that protecting forests, changing diets and altering farming methods “could contribute around a quarter of the greenhouse gas cuts needed to avert the worst impacts of climate change”. And yet another notes that urban infrastructure and activities caused about two-thirds of today’s emissions.
Other pieces use the report to speak to domestic politics, with the Hindu picking up on comments by Indian environment minister Bhupender Yadav, who said upon the report’s release that the IPCC endorses India’s position on the need for scale, scope and speed in climate finance. Meanwhile, the Guardian cites “leading scientists” who say that the UK government is moving “too slowly to tackle the climate emergency” in the wake of the report.
Another Guardian piece examines the influence of the fossil-fuel industry on policy and how this is addressed by the IPCC. “Social scientists were successful in pushing for more of their research to be included in the IPCC’s reports, with chapters that touch on everything from debunking claims that less developed countries need fossil fuels to help tackle poverty to a rundown of efforts to block climate policy,” it says. A Financial Times story notes that the “unavoidable” need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, “starkly laid out” in the IPCC report, “has given a boost to the technologies involved despite their shortcomings”. Elsewhere, the New Republic has a piece titled, “carbon removal isn’t the solution to climate change”, written by Genevieve Guenther, founding director of End Climate Silence. BusinessGreen has a piece titled: “Has the IPCC just given the green light for a renewed focus on carbon removals?”
Germany’s Handelsblatt reports that “the federal cabinet wants to adopt the draft of the offshore wind energy law (WindSeeG) on Wednesday”. The article adds that “from the point of view of the industry, the draft has shortcomings that can lead to significant cost increases”. It quotes Stefan Thimm, a representative of offshore wind sector, who says: “We are worried that the tendering criteria will not work and will drive up the electricity price further.”
Meanwhile, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says that German chemical companies BASF and Henkel want to become “climate neutral” in 2050 and 2030, respectively, and they “recently agreed on a cooperation to replace fossil raw materials with bio-based ones”. BASF’s emissions amounted to 21.1m tonnes in 2021, while Henkel’s emissions amounted to just 0.475m tonnes.
Elsewhere, German news channel n-tv reports that “until Germany has acquired its own liquified natural gas (LNG) terminals, it will use the so-called ‘floating storage and regasification unit’”. It adds that “the floating terminals should remain an interim solution because they need significantly more energy and, thus, emit more CO2, because of using gas burners to heat the gas to liquefy it”.
Finally, Der Spiegel has a story saying that “the Russian energy group Gazprom has asked its former German subsidiary Gazprom Germania to refrain from using the brand name and logo”.
UK drivers bought more electric cars in March alone than in the whole of 2019, according to new figures from lobby group the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which “underline the accelerating pace of the UK’s transition away from internal combustion engines”, the Guardian reports. The Times says that 39,315 fully electric cars were delivered to UK motorists last month and this coincided with a 14% drop in total new car sales. The Daily Telegraph notes that car makers are still struggling to source enough chips after factories that produce them closed down in the early days of the pandemic, while “adding to those problems is a shortage of some car parts made in Ukraine, such as bundles of electrical cabling”. An opinion piece by Matthew Parris in the Times points to the “nozzle-sized hole in our electric revolution”, namely the lack of sufficient charging infrastructure in the UK.
The South China Morning Post reports that China’s “largest” new-energy vehicle (NEV) maker, BYD, “stopped producing purely oil-fuelled vehicles last month and currently only makes electric and hybrid cars”. The announcement comes as the country “pushes towards its national goal of reducing carbon emissions”, the piece notes. The outlet adds that from January to March this year, BYD produced “only 4,635 oil-fuelled vehicles, down more than 90% from the same period a year earlier”, and its NEV production jumped “more than five-fold, reaching 287,530 units”. Yicai also covers the news, highlighting that the Shenzhen-based company has become “the world’s first carmaker to ditch fossil fuel cars”. The financial outlet writes that “stopping the production of fuel autos will help BYD focus on energy saving and battery vehicles, which is more conducive to the company’s expansion”, citing an “industry insider”. A host of other outlets – including Caixin, Reuters and Xinhua – feature the same story.
Meanwhile, according to S&P Global Commodity Insights, China’s “strict” lockdown measures are dealing “a huge blow to the NEV industry” in a “fresh wave of Covid-19 outbreaks”. The industry outlet highlights that “high raw material prices and logistical problems have led to a pessimistic outlook for the NEV industry”. The piece says that “many ports were heard to be congested due to restrictions, which could impact the inflow of spodumene – the key raw material for lithium salts – which usually comes into China via ports in the south”, citing a “trader”.
Additionally, Bloomberg reports that China and emerging economies make Asia “an LNG growth centre”. The piece says that China is “slated to invest more than any nation in natural gas infrastructure as Beijing seeks to reduce dependence on coal and peak emissions this decade”. The article adds that the world’s “top LNG buyer [China] has “30 import projects currently under construction, with tentative plans for another three dozen”. Finally, Radio Free Asia, a US-based news website, says that the water level in the South China Sea “has risen by 152mm since 1900”, citing new research by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The paper finds the rising rate of the South China Sea “has accelerated in accordance with global warming”, the website notes.
The new report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) continues to be a topic of discussion in the opinion pages of the global press, with an editorial in the Washington Post stating that the analysis, “filled with dire warnings”, could be viewed as “depressing – or, depending on one’s point of view, encouraging”. It begins by laying out the shrinking carbon budget that means another decade of emissions at the level between 2010 and 2019 would likely push the planet beyond 1.5C of warming. “Sounds grim. The encouraging part is that progress is still possible – easier, in fact, than one would have expected even a decade ago,” it continues. The editorial cites plummeting costs of renewables, improved battery technologies and the handful of nations that have shown it is possible to consistently curb emissions. Turning to domestic matters it concludes: “The US has rejoined the Paris agreement, and Congress is considering major climate legislation. As it has on the fight for democracy in Ukraine and a host of other global issues, it is time for the United States to lead again”.
A Financial Times editorial focuses on many of the same top-line figures cited in the Washington Post about the successes that have been seen in recent years. The article is clear that while the necessary technologies exist and the science of climate change is well understood, “the larger problem is politics, as the IPCC itself showed”. It notes that the report was “held up by wrangling among the 195 countries approving it, some of which depend heavily on fossil fuels or lack the resources to build a greener economy”. Now, it concludes, “new ways of shifting even faster must now be found”.
Analysis by environment reporter Adam Vaughan in New Scientist also point to the importance of politics. “The IPCC makes clear that there is still technically a path to the safer haven of a 1.5C world. But there is little sign of the political will to embark on that trail,” he says. Similar messages can also be found in international climate reporter Somini Sengupta’s New York Times newsletter, which also emphasises the urgent need for governments to implement policies to replace fossil fuels with renewables. “A failure to do so would very likely be more expensive. The panel’s projections say that countries will be poorer if they do not take action to shift to renewable energy sources, and that estimate doesn’t even count the economic benefits of improving public health and reducing extreme weather disasters,” she writes.
An editorial in Nature points to the recent events surrounding Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which has seen Russia threatening to turn off gas supples to “unfriendly” nations in Europe. “Whatever happens, the threat is a sign that the EU needs to accelerate its efforts to relinquish its dependence on Russia’s fossil fuels. It also underscores something that researchers who study climate, energy and economics have been saying for decades: that climate security and energy security are linked,” the editorial states. It says that while the immediate goal should be to “keep the lights on, the long-term goal must be decarbonisation”.
Other comment pieces criticise the latest round of EU energy sanctions against Russia in light of reported war crime in Ukraine. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, international business editor in the Daily Telegraph, writes that while nations such as Germany – concerned about their reliance on Russian fossil fuels – are resisting more comprehensive sanctions, an “energy embargo has become unstoppable as systematic atrocities against civilians come to light”. Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, writes that “sanctions on Russian oil and coal are insufficient. It is necessary to embargo imports of Russia’s gas, too”. The piece accepts that this would place a huge burden on nations such as Germany that are very reliant on Russian gas, and notes that they must be helped by their neighbours. “The gas available should be treated as a European resource, so far as is practical. It would be a magnificent gesture if the UK were to join in. It will also be necessary to adopt fiscal policies that cushion the blow on vulnerable people,” Wolf writes. A Daily Mail editorial takes aim at Germany for holding back sanctions. “At long last, the EU has proposed a ban on coal imports. But Germany, reliant on Russian hydrocarbons, is scandalously blocking a full embargo on gas, even though it funds Putin’s bloodshed,” the piece states.
Citing energy security concerns in the UK, a Sun editorial speaks in favour of fracking and points to polling it has reported in today that apparently suggests 44% of voters support it (although the polling is not attributed to any organisation and appears to contradict many official government polls on the same topic). The editorial states that while the “industry looked dead…it’s been reprieved” and the survey shows that “a majority” support lifting the current ban on fracking. “Funny how a cost of living crisis focuses minds. Extinction Rebellion and other face-glueing, nappy-wearing clowns cannot grasp it – but wind and solar will never power Britain alone and new nuclear plants will take a decade,” it says. The piece concludes that the UK needs as much gas as possible in the meantime and with fracking paying off in the US, “it would be insane not to find out if it can be here” (there have been numerous unsuccessful attempts to start fracking in the UK).
Darren Jones, the Labour MP who chairs the business, energy and industrial strategy committee, has a piece in the Times Red Box in which he looks ahead to the government’s upcoming energy security strategy. He says: “We have more than enough policy. We need action. The problem goes straight to the heart of the Conservative party. The Conservatives believe that all they need to do is announce a ‘policy signal’ and that the market will do the heavy lifting”. According to Jones, what companies and investors need is planning reform and clear decision-making. “Unfortunately, it looks like the prime minister’s energy security strategy will be more reflective of internal arguments in the Conservative Party than about energy security. If that wasn’t true, we’d see a clear direction on onshore wind development, for example,” he continues. Jones also says that there need to be decisions made about gas, but this does not mean drilling more in the North Sea or turning to fracking. “Instead, we need to deal with the elephant in the room – the amount of energy we use and its source…This is especially important for gas,” he writes.
In another Times Red Box piece, Miriam Turner and Hugh Knowles, co-executive directors of Friends of the Earth, also look ahead to the strategy and point to the IPCC latest report as evidence of the “urgency of a clean energy transition”. They say the strategy “must reject calls for more oil and gas extraction” and instead turn to the UK’s “extraordinary mix of renewable energy sources”, combined with energy efficiency measures.
In Africa, climate change is largely perceived through its negative impacts on agriculture, a new study finds. The authors analyse how climate change is perceived by Africans through survey responses and climate data. They find that changes in local climate conditions are related to climate-change beliefs. The study also notes that “authoritarian and intolerant ideologies” are associated with lower climate-change awareness. It adds that women, and Africans who do not speak French, English or Portuguese, are less likely to be aware of climate change.
New research finds that 133,000 square kilometres (km2) of Eurasian boreal forest is currently at “high, or extreme, risk of fire-induced forest loss”. A further 3m km2 – around 25% of the total forest area – is at risk of permanent forest loss by the end of the century under a high emission scenario, it adds. The authors use burned area and forest loss datasets to calculate the “landscape-scale fire return interval and associated risk of permanent forest loss”. They then use machine learning to determine how a “fire return interval” will change by the end of the century. They conclude that fire “has the potential to degrade or destroy some of the largest remaining intact forests in the world”.